Sustainability is just a buzzword these days, and rightly so. For many of us, we think a lot about the food we eat, the cleaning products we buy, our reliance on fossil fuels, how we reuse and recycle our waste, and the impact of our carbon footprint on the environment. But we sometimes forget about sustainability when it comes to what we wear. Clothes shopping, for some, is a necessary evil. But for many of us, it’s a form of entertainment. How we dress expresses something about who we are; we’re excited by trends, and we love the feeling of buying — and wearing — something new.
But there doesn’t need to be a disconnect between the clothes we wear and our green values. Here are some ideas to keep sustainability at the forefront of our minds, without sacrificing fashion and style.
Buy secondhand: Buying clothing secondhand is a great way to save money, and to cut down the amount of clothing that enters our landfills. Not only is secondhand clothing shopping a form of recycling, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to discover unique items you’d never find in a mall. Think of it as crowd-sourcing the merchandising process — it truly exemplifies the axiom, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” Also, secondhand clothing shops frequently have a philanthropic element with a portion of proceeds going to charity, or the shops are locally owned, which stimulates the local economy. It’s a win-win-win.
- Clothing swaps: Even better than buying secondhand clothing, clothing swaps allow you to trade, with no financial hit to the pocketbook. Same principles apply: it keeps used clothing out of the landfills, and in the closets of people who will put it to good use. It’s a way to add variety to your closet without increasing your footprint. Clothing swaps are fun and easy to arrange, and can make for a great social outing between friends.
- Make your own: Learning how to make your own clothing — whether it be through a good ol’ craft like knitting or crocheting, or through designing and sewing — can be a very rewarding way to add to your wardrobe. When you make your own clothes, not only are you able to personalize your style in a profound way, you’re also able to have so much more control over the materials that you use — whether that be knitting with organic, ethically sourced wool or cotton, or by recycling fabric from secondhand stores.
- Ethical clothing sources: Many people choose what they wear on the basis of their own personal ethics, and it’s becoming more and more possible to dress vegan or to limit petroleum-based fabrics and wear organic, renewable fibers instead. Paying attention to where the fabric comes from, and the conditions in which the clothing is produced, can make shopping more challenging, but is ultimately rewarding. We recommend shopping in smaller, local boutiques where staff generally have a better handle on product knowledge, and can answer questions about the companies they buy from. Plus, boutique shopping has the added benefit of contributing directly to the local economy, rather than supporting the big box stores.
- Check your own consumption: It’s remarkably easy to run to the mall for a couple of hours, and buy out of boredom. Instead, ask yourself four questions:
- “Do I need this item?”
- “How frequently will I use this item?”
- “Do I have room to store this item?”
- “Do I love this item, or have a strong emotional connection to it?”
If you have good answers for all of the above, then go ahead and make the purchase. But so frequently, we’ll buy something because it’s on sale, or because the purchase feels good in the moment. And that doesn’t lead to long-term sustainability. Asking these questions also helps to keep your closet clean, and to have an inventory of what you already have and what you need, so that you’re not just purchasing randomly, or buying duplicates.
Sustainable fashion is, fortunately, coming into “fashion,” which is something that will help all of us be as ethical with what we put on our bodies as with what we eat or how we travel. By making sustainable fashion part of our thought process when we buy — rather than just focusing on price or trends — we can take one more step towards making the world that much better.
And who doesn’t want to do that?!